The defense got the opening it wanted – and said it was entitled to – to test the credibility of the prosecution’s “star witness” in an August 2005 Paradise Hills double homicide that is finally going to trial almost eight years later.
Ronald Santiago, at the time a Countrywide loan processer for victims John and Bernadette Ohlemachers’ refinance of their home, is accused of the double homicide, though the investigation initially focused on Renée, the couple’s daughter.
Second Judicial District Judge Kenneth Martinez on Wednesday denied the prosecution’s motion to exclude testimony about a polygraph administered last year to Renée Ohlemacher. The girl told police who responded to the scene that she heard footsteps on the stairs, hid in a closet, heard yelling, then gunshots and discovered her 46-year-old parents shot to death in the bedroom of their home on Dover Court NW.
She called the police nonemergency number.
Detective Mark Johnson, the Albuquerque Police Department’s polygraph expert and a polygraph examiner with more than 20 years’ experience, testified at Wednesday’s hearing that the results of the polygraph given to Renée Ohlemacher were “inconclusive” or “no opinion.” That means no inference can be drawn, either that the subject passed or failed the test, he said.
Jason Yamato, one of three prosecutors in the case, argued that there is a “high probability” of a juror equating “inconclusive” with “failed,” and that would be prejudicial to the state’s case. He said the polygraph evidence was irrelevant, because it was inconclusive and was therefore inadmissible.
But Santiago’s lawyer Joseph Riggs said it was evidence ripe for impeachment to undermine the credibility of Renée Ohlemacher, now Renée Ohlemacher-Waters.
Riggs said the state’s eight-year investigation culminated with APD giving Ohlemacher-Waters the polygraph in September 2012. He said defense experts will testify that the remedy when there is an inconclusive result is to administer another polygraph, often using a different polygrapher.
“The fact that they didn’t have another polygrapher do it is fair game” for cross-examination, he said. “It’s relevant.”
New Mexico is one of the only states that allows polygraphs to be admitted into evidence.
Martinez ruled in favor of the prosecution on a second motion to require the testimony of a physician at Presbyterian Behavioral Health Program who treated Santiago as a patient in June 2006 at Anna Kaseman Hospital.
Santiago signed a consent to release medical and psychiatric information to a Secret Service agent, Brian Nguyen, who was investigating another case. Nguyen shared the information with APD, which Riggs argued he had no authority to do.
Assistant District Attorney Guinevere Ice argued that Santiago had waived the confidentiality of the material by signing the release and by later discussing it during a television interview aired in 2008 on CBS “48 Hours,” footage of which is expected to be shown at trial. Riggs said the consent had been obtained by “classic bait and switch” tactics, but the judge said the doctor can be compelled to testify.
The trial is set to begin Monday with jury selection and require three weeks of testimony.